New York City Travel Guide
Greetings intrepid travellers, and welcome to our essential guide to New York the only place to find out everything you need to know before you travel.
Planning a trip now lockdown is over?
England's national lockdown ended on 2nd December and we're allowed to fly overseas, regardless of which tier we (or our airport) is in. (You still can't fly to New Yoek for a holiday though - the borders of the USA are closed.) For more details see our guide to travelling under the tiers system.
A little about New York
New York, the city of dreams. There's a whimsical magic that comes with the name of America's best-known city. New York is a world of its own, with over 800 languages spoken across its 300 square miles, making it one of the worlds true international cities.
A cultural hub - whether its fashion, art, cuisine or pop-culture, New York is in a league of its own. You could spend a week in New York simply wandering the streets and never get bored; even the storefronts are extravagant attractions. Around every corner is a location from a movie set and you only have to look up to experience an urban canopy of high rise rooftops.
Theres a reason New York is lovingly referred to as The City That Never Sleeps - with so much going on it can be easy to feel a little overwhelmed by it all. Its insanely busy, home to over 8.5 million people and over 24,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone. Popular boroughs such as Manhattan are sometimes criticised for being expensive, dirty and unforgivingly chaotic if youre not keeping your eyes wide open. However, theres so much more to this massive city than its iconic landmarks, and in this guide we explore the breadth of what New York has to offer, no matter what youre looking for from your trip.
In addition to Manhattan there are 4 other boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Only the Bronx sits on the mainland, the rest of the city is spread out over a group of islands in New York Bay. Within these boroughs are neighbourhoods that all have their own personalities that are constantly evolving, while remaining entrenched in a rich history. Its a city thats suffered, yet continues to rise above it all as one of the greatest destinations in the world. With a history of prohibition, an economic crash and devastating attacks, how it continues to appear in the top 10 most visited destinations in the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index year after year is truly inspiring in itself.
Heres what to expect from our New York travel guide:
- Some facts about New York
- Before you go to New York
- Travelling to New York
- Travelling around New York
- The boroughs of New York
Some facts about New York
Located on the northeastern coast of the United States, New York City is the most densely populated city in the country. Astoundingly, 1 in 38 Americans live in this one metropolis. It was also the first capital city of the United States in 1789.
Residing in the EST time zone, New York is four hours behind GMT, meaning jet lag shouldnt be too bothersome.
Before you go to New York
If you do decide to take the plunge and visit The Big Apple, here are a few things to bear in mind
Do I need a visa to visit New York?
Before we get to the fun stuff, we need to talk about visas. The USA has a visa waiver programme, which means that citizens of certain countries dont need a visa to stay in the country for up to 90 days for business or leisure. Fortunately, the UK is part of the programme and visitors from Britain do not need a visa to enter the USA on holiday.
However, you will need to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) - the states way of keeping tabs on who is coming into the country. Its recommended you apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before departure, and it lasts for 2 years providing you keep the same passport.
You apply for your Esta online. But stay vigilant - there are lots of unofficial websites that will charge more for the application than the government site. An ESTA application should only cost $14, and can be purchased safely here.
Whats the weather like in New York?
The weather in New York isnt too dissimilar to what we experience in the UK, with an average of 25°C in July and 2°C in January. The winter months are susceptible to fierce snow storms, so its worth checking the forecast if youre planning on visiting in colder climes. You can find a detailed breakdown of New Yorks annual weather trends here.
Travelling to New York
Our journey started at London Heathrow. After dropping our car with a handy meet and greet service, we checked in and went to an airport lounge which gave us some time to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet before an 8 hour flight into New Yorks JFK Airport. And to save any hassle getting into the city we had booked an airport transfer for the hour long journey to our accommodation. We stayed in Manhattan, the epicentre of New York and where our adventure begins.
Travelling around New York
Once wed arrived at our accommodation, dropped off our bags and watched a couple of episodes of Friends* to get in the mood, we were ready to start exploring all that New York had to offer. Here are some of the ways you can get about this bustling city
*Famously filmed in LA, with amusingly unconvincing stock shots of Manhattan a constant source of amusement to New Yorkers!
New York Subway
Not just a delicious sandwich, but the main public transportation system in New York. The whole subway system operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and its really reassuring to know that you can get back to your accommodation, no matter how late youre out exploring. Our usual advice for finding your way around a new city is download trusty Google Maps, but as much of the subway runs underground, you cant always rely on a phone signal, so we would also advise grabbing a good old fashioned map from your nearest station.
Next, what youll need to do is purchase a MetroCard, which act like Oyster Cards do in London. You can buy a single journey on a MetroCard, but if youre planning on using the subway more than once, there are more cost effective options available...
Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards work like a prepaid card, and can be loaded up with cash before you travel. Youll be charged each time you ride, and the more money you add, the more discount youll get.
Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards are available in $5.50, $10.48, $20.95, $26.19, $39.29, and $61.90 denominations.
Unlimited Ride MetroCard
The Unlimited Ride MetroCard works like a season ticket, where you choose the length of time you want to use the metro for. There are no zones, so one ride will cost the same no matter how long it takes.
You can get a variety of Unlimited Ride MetroCards, ranging from 7 to 30 days and $32 to $121 in cost.
New York Taxi
Theres no form of transportation more ubiquitous in New York than the famous yellow taxi; riding in one is as much an attraction as it is a means to an end. To hail a cab, step off the curb and hold your arm out at a taxi with its light on. If the light is off, it already has a passenger in it. A taxi can take a maximum of 4 people and a minimum taxi fare is $2.50. The fare will then increase 50 cents per 1/5 of a mile. Its also worth remembering that theres a nighttime surcharge of 50 cents for rides from 8pm until 6am, and a peak hour weekday surcharge of $1 from 4pm to 8pm.
In our experience, we found Uber to be the cheaper option, however its hard to deny they lack the unique appeal of the iconic taxis. When in New York!
Depending on where youre staying, walking can be one of the best ways of exploring New York authentically. If youre staying in Manhattan, particularly for a week or longer, wed recommend taking some comfy shoes for an amble down the city streets. However, if time is tight or youre looking to explore further afield, public transport is absolutely the way to go.
The boroughs of New York
Once youve decided how youre going to get about, its time to take a look at where you should visit. Heres what you can expect to find in each of New Yorks unique boroughs
When people think of New York City, Manhattan is often the first place they picture. Over many decades, Manhattan has become a metropolis of colour, culture, diversity and architecture. Throughout the 19th century, Manhattan grew rapidly thanks to the city's economic dominance and rise in immigration, both of which helped to establish New York as a hub for diversity and international cuisine.
Locals often regard Manhattan as a tourist hotspot, which is hard to deny. Its home to many world famous landmarks that people from around the world flock to see. Even the names of streets are iconic, think Wall Street, Madison Avenue, 42nd Street, Broadway and more! Couple all this with the world's brightest theater district, some of the tallest high rise buildings you will ever see, and you could spend a week on this tiny island and still not see everything.
How to get around Manhattan
Manhattan is divided into 3 sections: Downtown, Midtown and Uptown. Downtown is famous for being the hipster district, Midtown is the corporate hub and Uptown has a more sophisticated feel to it. Most of Manhattan is laid out in a grid pattern, meaning that it's easy to find your way around. Avenues run north to south and streets are east to west. Fifth Avenue separates the east and west sides, with street numbers increasing as you head away from Fifth.
Grand Central Station
If Manhattan is the epicentre of New York then Grand Central station is the epicentre of Manhattan. You could spend a whole day in Grand Central Station, there is that much to do here, with everything from shops, historic landmarks, bars, a food hall, tennis courts and of course trains! Keep an eye out for stations world famous clock, which is estimated to be worth between 10 and 20 million dollars! Its one of Grand Central Stations most iconic features, appearing in many movies; its got quite the celebrity status.
Grand Central Market
Featuring 13 local vendors of fresh produce, gourmet ingredients and treats, the Grand Central Market is a European-style food market tucked away in this enormous station. But dont be fooled into this is just a couple of kiosks like we might be used to at a large train station in the UK; the market alone receives 10,000 visitors per day! Grand Central Market is open daily, and we can think of worse places to wait for your next train!
The Whispering Gallery
If you happen to find across people facing the wall and muttering to themselves, dont worry, you havent stumbled across a Blair Witch style haunting, youve just discovered the Whispering Gallery! Located just outside the main concourse on the way to the food court, the design of the arched walls creates an acoustic phenomenon - if you say something in one corner, someone standing in the opposite corner will hear you loud and clear!
The High Line
Once youve finished exploring Grand Central Station, hop on the subway to the High Line, a beautiful public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets. The rail was originally built in 1934 to carry goods to and from Manhattan's largest industrial district, but is now used as a beautiful outdoor space for locals and tourists to enjoy. You can still see the railway tracks that were used back in the day, helping to preserve the heritage of the site.
You can download the High Line app to give you more information on everything that goes on here.
Traversing the length of the High Line will work up quite an appetite, but thankfully just a short walk away is Chelsea Market, known as one of the greatest food markets in the world and aptly located in the Meatpacking District at 75 Ninth Avenue. Once the home of the National Biscuit Company that was served by the trains on the High Line, it has over 35 different vendors selling delicious food items. Not only that, it also attracts fashionistas looking through the vintage flea market style stalls that are also based here.
Central Park, in our opinion, is the best thing the city could have done for the people of Manhattan, offering a sanctuary to appreciate trees, grass and open space, a real contrast to the rest of Manhattan. The park covers around 3.5 square miles and stretches across 843 acres of land; to put that in perspective the park is almost six times larger than Monaco! Its featured in over 350 films and is visited by over 40 million people a year.
A great place to view the park is from the top of the Met museum. The Cantor Rooftop Garden Bar is open during the warmer months and offers unique views of the city over the treetops. Youll have to buy a ticket to the museum to get access to the bar, but with some of the most incredible exhibitions in the world on offer, its well worth the cost.
Whether youre visiting for the first time or the hundredth, no trip to Manhattan is complete without venturing to Times Square. Originally called Longacre Square, Times Square takes its name from the New York Times headquarters, which moved to 1 Times Square in 1904. Nowadays 1 Times Square is now mostly empty, but it holds the New Years Eve ball and a wall of billboards that generate over $23 million per year!
On New Year's Eve, close to a million people congregate to celebrate the 'Dropping of the Ball'. We were also happy to find out that the ball was replaced by an energy efficient model in 2008.
It may be one of the world's most visited tourist attractions, seeing about 50 million visitors annually every year, but its still a must when in New York, and definitely worth fighting through the crowds.
Just around the corner from Times Square is Broadway - New Yorks answer to Londons West End theatre district. Broadway actually runs for a whopping 33 miles, of which 18 miles are not even within New York City limits! It begins from Lower Manhattan at Bowling Green and runs north to the Bronx, all the way to Albany.
There are 41 Broadway Theatres in New York but despite the title, only 4 theatres are actually located on Broadway Street : The Winter Garden, The Roundabout, The Marquis, and The Broadway Theatre. In order to qualify as a Broadway theatre, the theatre must have 500 seats and must be located between 40th St. to 54th St., and from west of 6th Ave. to East of Eighth Ave., including Times Square. Theatres that dont quite fulfil these qualifications are often referred to as Off-Broadway.
What are the other boroughs of New York?
If we're honest, Manhattan warrants a travel guide alone, but we wanted to see as much of New York as possible, which meant exploring the other boroughs of this eclectic city. Starting with Queens...
Queens is the largest and most culturally diverse of all the five boroughs of New York City. In fact, its known as one of the most culturally diverse areas of the world, blending influences from across the globe. But if you talk to almost anyone in Queens, the first thing that gets mentioned is the food! If youre interested in exploring the culinary world all in one place, head to Roosevelt Avenue, which stretches over 100 blocks of eateries from around the planet. A worthy pilgrimage for any foodie!
The next stop on our trip was Brooklyn, the borough that sits just east of Manhattan, over the river. Our highlight from Brooklyn was an area called Dumbo (which stands for "Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass"), which is essentially New Yorks answer to Londons Shoreditch. Originally an industrial neighbourhood, its become a hipster haven over recent years, with younger generations heading there to get that perfect Instagram shot. This alone makes it a great destination for people-watching, especially on Washington Street. But despite this, it's still a very beautiful place to visit and gives you cracking views of the Manhattan skyline from the other side of the river. Our advice would be to get there a dusk for a stunning sunset.
To get to Dumbo you can take the F train to York Street or the A or C to High Street. Theres also the New York City ferry that connects Manhattan to New York.
The Bronx is a borough situated right above Manhattan. One of the most vibrant areas of the city, this is the birthplace of hip hop, with artists such as Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool cutting their teeth on the streets of the Bronx. But while the borough is famous for its music scene, it also happens to be the greenest borough of New York. Central Park might grab the headlines, but Pelham Bay Park is actually the largest park in the city; its three times as big as Central Park to be exact. If youre a nature lover, then a trip to the Bronx is a must as a hefty 25 percent of the land is park space!
Staten Island is the southernmost of New Yorks 5 boroughs, connected to Lower Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry, which runs across New York Harbour and is completely free to tourists and locals! Of all the boroughs, it definitely has the most residential feel to it. Make sure to visit the zoo and botanical gardens or simply catch the ferry to get great views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. It departs from Whitehall Terminal Manhattan and runs every 30 minutes.
To wrap up
Thats it from our time in New York! Weve only scratched the surface on all the things to do in this wonderfully eclectic city, and helps you on your way to planning your own adventure to the Big Apple.
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